Toasting Our Presidents: A Volunteer on Assignment in Georgia

09-Jan-2014 Categories: Georgia Volunteer Stories

My assignment was to provide assistance to business associations in order to help them develop advocacy skills as part of IESC’s Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) Support Project in the Republic of Georgia.  I met with the officials in Tbilisi and then went to the regions outside the capital.

Volunteer Jeff Rogo (left), translator Maya Kharebashvili, and Zugdidi Chamber President Yuri Tsotseria

Before my arrival, Mr. Saba Sarishvili, SME Development Manager, sent guidance to help me prepare.  One piece of advice was not clear at that point.  He wrote, “One very important word here in Georgia is “Gaumarjos” – Cheers.  You will understand this as soon as you are in the region.”

Saba was alluding to Georgian hospitality.  I made presentations to chamber leaders and staff in Kutaisi, Zugdidi, Batumi and Telavi.  After each presentation I was invited to a supra – a feast – hosted by the same officials.  The menu included meats, vegetables, cheeses, bread, desserts, and pitchers of Georgian wine.

The most memorable supra was hosted by the Zugdidi Regional Chamber of Commerce and Industry and its president Mr. Yuri Tsotseria.  It was customary for the highest official at the supra to serve as tamada, a toastmaster.  Yuri offered the first toast for Georgia, the USA, and our respective presidents – Mr. Saakashvili and Mr. Bush.  Then, he proceeded to drink several ounces of wine from a kantsi, a specially-crafted cow horn.  He called on me for the second toast and promised if I could drink all of the wine in the kantsi, I could have it as a souvenir.

The kantsi is on display today in my home.  It reminds me of Georgian hospitality and fulfilling work with IESC.

- Jeff Rogo, IESC Volunteer Expert